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30 June, 2017 - 00:45 By Jamie Quested

Raspberry Pi engineers another MacRobert win for Cambridge

Eben Upton Raspberry Pi

Cambridge-based Raspberry Pi has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award, recognised as the UK’s top engineering innovation accolade.

The triumphant team of engineers received a gold medal and a £50,000 prize at the Academy Awards Dinner, hosted yesterday evening at the Landmark London Hotel.  

The Raspberry Pi team was up against another Cambridge-based finalist, cyber security machine learning experts Darktrace, and London-based surface guided radiotherapy pioneers Vision RT for the coveted award. 

Renowned for identifying the 'next big thing’, the annual MacRobert Award is presented to the engineers behind the UK engineering profession's most exciting innovation.

Raspberry Pi’s tiny low-cost micro PC can be used as the control centre of almost anything, from video games to robots, multi-room sound systems, pet feeders, or scientific experiments. The ‘Pi’ has inspired a new generation of makers and brought computer programming into classrooms in a fun and engaging way.

Conceived as a way to boost computer science applications to the University of Cambridge, Raspberry Pi has created a whole new class of computer that has transformed the way engineers design control systems in industry. Before Raspberry Pi, each industry had its own suppliers of control computers, which in turn reduced competition and lowered quality. The robust and flexible Raspberry Pi has swept this market away and over half of Raspberry Pis are now sold to industry. 

The MacRobert Award has recognised many technologies that have since become ubiquitous, such as the catalytic convertor and the CT scanner, whose inventor Sir Godfrey Hounsfield won the MacRobert Award in 1972, seven years before he received the Nobel Prize. 

Cambridge has a history of success in this competition during the last decade. Microsoft Research won the MacRobert in 2011, RealVNC followed suit in 2013 and there have been Cambridge-based finalists in six of the last ten years.

MacRobert Award Judge Dr Frances Saunders CB FREng said: “The Raspberry Pi team has achieved something that mainstream multinational computer companies and leading processing chip designers not only failed to do, but failed even to spot a need for. 

“With a team of engineers numbering in the tens, not hundreds or thousands, Raspberry Pi has redefined home computing for many thousands of people across the world, even taking 1% of the global PC market. Their refusal to compromise on quality, price point or functionality has resulted in a highly innovative design that has taken the education and maker market by storm, and they have created a world-beating business in the process.” 

From initially setting out to help increase the number of computer science applicants to the University of Cambridge, the Raspberry Pi team has put the power of computing into the hands of people all over the world. 

By doing so, they are helping to ensure future generations are capable of understanding and shaping our increasingly digital world, able to solve the problems that matter to them, and equipped for the jobs of the future.

Around the turn of the millennium, university computer science courses began to see a dramatic decrease in the number of applicants. This is thought to be linked to the demise of programmable home computers like the BBC Micro and Spectrum ZX. 

As personal computers and games consoles became more complex, fewer young people felt able to access the ‘back room’ workings of computers, reducing the number of hobbyists. At the same time, computer programming was not widely taught in schools. 

Raspberry Pi is tackling these problems by firing kids’ imaginations about computing with an easy-to-use, powerful and robust programmable computer, at a price-point that makes it accessible to schools: just $35 (£28) for the flagship product, or an even smaller version, the Raspberry Pi Zero, at $5 (£4).

Since the first Raspberry Pi was launched in 2012, the organisation has gone on to sell 14 million to makers, schools, and increasingly to industry. 

The industry demand stems from the reliability of the design; only five in every million Raspberry Pis experience failures (the typical industry rate is 1 in 1000) thanks to its partnership with Sony, which manufactures them in Wales more cost effectively and to higher standards than overseas. 

Raspberry Pi is a not for profit organisation. The success achieved by the commercial arm - Raspberry Pi Trading – generates millions in profits that are then used by the charitable Raspberry Pi Foundation to help teach people about computing. 

Through initiatives such as Code Club, Raspberry Pi helps 85,000 UK children in 5,750 weekly Code Clubs learn the basics of coding. This reach is not limited to the UK; there are 4,500 Code Clubs outside of the 
country, teaching basic computing skills in 27 languages through 1,084 Raspberry Pi Certified Educators. 

Dr Dame Sue Ion DBE FREng FRS, Chair of the MacRobert Award judging panel, said: “All three of this year’s finalists demonstrate exceptional engineering, but what sets Raspberry Pi apart is the sheer quality of the innovation, which has allowed the computer to be used far beyond its original purpose. 

“By blending old and new technology with innovative systems engineering and circuit board design, the team has created a computer that is cheap, robust, small and flexible. It is manufactured in the UK cheaper and at higher quality than elsewhere. Raspberry Pi’s original educational goal has actually resulted in a computer control system that can influence many different industries. 

“Raspberry Pi has also inspired multiple generations to get into coding: children are learning about coding for the first time, often alongside their parents and grandparents. Communities in the developing world are being empowered by the Raspberry Pi and its modern day computing-on-a-budget.” 

The winning team members are: Dr Eben Upton CBE, CEO; James Adams, COO; Pete Lomas, Director of Engineering, Norcott Technologies; Dom Cobley, Senior Principal Software Engineer; Gordon Hollingworth, Director of Engineering; Liz Upton, Director of Communications. 

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Raspberry Pi CEO, Eben Upton

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